Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Tuesday, 20 April 2010


English is not the most popular second language in Japan: American is.

Japanese children learn American spellings, they learn American words, they learn American accents (the vowel sounds are totally different) and they learn American geography. England, on the other hand, is a mystical and confusing place, indistinguishable from the country of London, floating somewhere in the middle of Russia. Today, I gave twelve 11 year olds unlimited time to find England, or Britain, on a map, and - after ten minutes of drawing circles around Italy, Sweden and Moscow - they eventually admitted that they didn't have the foggiest.
"What language do they speak in England?" I asked them.
"What language do they speak in America?" I ventured.
"English," they said confidently.
"So what language do they speak in England?"
Silence again.
"English," I said. "They speak English. English comes from England." I drew the two words on the board and then scribbled underneath them so that they could see they were similar. "See?"
Their eyes lit up with sudden comprehension; as if they had never before drawn a link between the two. Mainly because they hadn't.
"And what country do I come from?"
Silence. And then: "London."
"Where is London?"
"Where is Tokyo?"
"So where is London?"
Silence. So I drew a map and gave myself chalk related breathing difficulties in attempting to draw a map of Europe.
"It's very small," one of them pointed out in disappointment.
"Yes," I said tiredly. "It is. Very small."

The problem is, it's not just the children who don't know anything about England. Adults don't know a lot more, although they are similarly fascinated by the mystical, tiny island that moves around and disappears like Avalon.
I tested out a basic quiz on my colleagues, for fun, during one of my preparation periods.
"What is the English national flower?"
"What colour are the buses in London?"
"Blue?" somebody ventured eventually.
Finally I brought out my trump card:
"What is 'a cuppa'?"
"Eeeehhhhhhh?" six adults all said in unison. There was a flurry of excitement. More teachers joined in, wheeling over their chairs and murmuring - "cuppa? Cuppa?"
"Ceppa?" one of them asked.
"Cuppa," I corrected.
"Big hamster?" somebody offered.
"No. That's a capybara."
A few of them had got their computerised dictionaries out and were feverishly searching for the answers.
"Woodland elf!" the deputy headmaster eventually shouted. "Woodland elf!" He showed me the entry.
"That's a kappa."
"Oh," he said, still thrilled.
"A cuppa..." I announced, with the whole room in my thrall, "is a cup of tea."
"A. Cup. Of. Tea?" they all shouted, delighted. "Aaaaah!!" They have now introduced "cuppa" into the staffroom vocabulary, even though they sometimes get confused and call it a "cuppa of tea".

It's going to take a while, I think, because I'm the first English person to ever teach at the school, but I've decided; I'll have them speaking in rhyming cockney slang by the end of the year. They already know a little American, so it shouldn't take too long. And, by the time I leave, every single child in Kitago will know where England is on a map.

Despite the fact that we are so very small.